Wednesday, March 11, 2009

This week

Hi, guys, for this week, I hope every one has already finished their site research and analysis without any problem, since I haven’t heard much question about it so far.

Regarding the program, the original setting is commercial use, such as restaurant, retail, café, etc. but for the first couple weeks, you don’t have to think too much about the real building, but focus more on the concept and design strategy you have been working on, the site at this point is only help you to frame your imagination to a certain area and cultural background.

I’m looking forward to see many conceptual models and analysis sketches on this matter. Or even questions!

btw, this week let's all comment on Danielle and Jed's blog.




by Kengo Kuma

I was asked to design a Nō stage in Toyoma, a small town on the Kitakami River, about 70 kilometres north of Sendai, the seat of Miyagi Prefecture.The name Toyoma, written
with the characters for 'ripen' and 'rice', may be a reference to the area's rich harvests of rice, but is more likely to be a corruption of toyama,meaning 'distant mountains'.Toyoma, which has been producing rice since the Edo period (1600­—1868),prospered as the of a branch of the Date clan.From the Meiji period(1868—1912),its location on the Kitakami River helped make it a transDortation hub;for a few brief years it was even the seat of the prefectural government.With its beautiful buildings and townscapes, the town is almost like an open-air museum.However,its population,now calculated to be 6,000, has been declining in recent years.

Toyoma has a number of old cultural traditions but townspeople are proudest of its own distinctive style of Nō, which has a 400-year history going back to Date Masamune, a daimyo of the domain of Sendai.1 Masamune loved Nō.He added original touches to the Kita and Komparu schools and founded the Komparu Ōkura school,later known as the Ōkura school.

There has always been an active interest in Nō throughout the TOhoku region.2 Whereas in western Japan Nō was performed by professional troupes—originally the descendants of nomadic hunters—here it was performed by ordinary villagers.The prototype of Toyoma Nō is believed to have been a synthesis of the Ōkura school and a form of Nō that had been performed in the town long before Masamune came on the scene.

Townspeople rather than professionals continue to perform Nō in Toyoma.The local No society has 70 members and is the last of its type in Miyagi Prefecture.Nō is still such an integral part of everyday life that NŌ songs are sung at practically every ceremony.But despite this, the town did not have a theatre.The townspeople's desire for a stage dedicated to Nō led to this project.

From its necessarily limited financial resources, Toyoma managed to scrape together l90 million yen.Constructing a Nō theatre is usually said to cost 500 to 1,000 million yen,so in working on this project,we had to make every yen count.Architectural work nearly always involves a struggle between the ideal design and the reality of the budget.However, as I discovered,no such opposition or conflict arose here.

In creating this project, I gradually began to understand that the use of material ought to be minimized in such a space.As a consequence, the design objective did not conflict with the reality of the budget.That did not mean the design was without difficulties;in fact,it consumed an extraordinary amount of time and effort.

Minimisation is very different from minimalism.Its motive is not the simplification and abstraction of form,but rather the criticism of matter.This critical attitude is consistent with Nō theatre, which is often focused on the spirit world.Zeami perfected a form of Nō in which almost all the characters are spirits of the dead.3 In plays in that form, time as experienced by the dead and time as experienced by the living are intertwined.The spirits censure this earthly world and the matter from which it is composed.That is the essence of Nō.

Of course, the actors are made of flesh and blood,and the stage is made of materials such as wood and tiles.It is both the paradox and the source of appeal of Nō that it uses matter to censure matter.Such paradoxical criticism of matter is what I mean by minimisation.

In what way, then, does Nō criticize matter? First, by the low position it assigns to it. In both the spaces and the direction of Nō, a low centre of gravity is of crucial importance.Raising a thing to a high position affirms its presence and causes it to lapse into being an object.For this reason everything in Nō is kept low.When all things that might rise up are eliminated,all that is ultimately left is the floor.Thee floor therefore acquires a particular importance.

Nō actors walk in a distinctive Way called namban,half-crouching and gliding over the floor.This posture is said to be modelled on the movements of farmers in rice paddies.However, in light of the fact that the tradition of Nō was maintained by people who were descended from hunters, it cannot be attributed simply to farmwork.Actors walk in this Way precisely because a low centre of gravity is demanded of them.

A space for Nō must also be low, that is, close to the floor.One might even say that a No space can be reduced to three floors:the main stage (butai),six metres square;the floor called kenjo where spectators sit;and the shirasu,the white pebble.covered stretch of ground between the stage and the kenjo.The stage is a space for the spirits of the dead,that is,the other world;the kenjo is the world of the here and now, and the shirasu divides these two spaces.The three floors with three different functions are all that is essential to the Nō space.Everything takes place close
to the floor.To make certain that spectators focus on that area, the actors stamp their feet on the floorboards.Jars are arranged beneath the stage to amplify the sound.Every design device is intended to focus attention on the floor and to lower the centre of gravity of the performance as a whole.No one looks up at the roof over the stage—it is there simply to protect against inclement weather,and to wrap the stage in dark shadow.The spirits of the dead must not stand out but must sink into the dark shadow of the roof barely distinguishable in the faint light reflected by the white pebbles.

In l884,the construction of an entirely enclosed Nō theatre called Kōyōza in the Shiba district of Tokyo destroyed this traditional arrangement.The building, which made it possible to perform Nō throughout the year,immediately became the prototype for the modern Nō theatre.Its stage and the seats arranged around it were both enveloped in a large outer structure.This prevented the weather from affecting performances,but many things were lost in the process,including the low centre of gravity.The building envelope became of necessity an enormous structure with a high ceiling, sheltering not just the stage but also the roof directly over it.Outwardly, the Nō theatre became a conspicuous object with a high centre of gravity. Inside,the roof over the stage became a towering object in the high—ceilinged space.Even more devastating was the treatment of the shirasu,which was reduced to a narrow strip less than two metres wide.The space that was once central to Nō,separating this world from the next,had been virtually eliminated.

The Nō theatre in Toyoma was intended both as a criticism and as a reversal of the arrangment first introduced in Kōyōza.Indeed,calling it a theatre is apt to give rise to a misunderstanding,for this suggests an enclosed,self-sufficient structure, that is, an object. Our goal was neither an object nor a building,but rather a garden in which three floor surfaces are carefully placed in a natural environment.

That idea was inspired by the site that the town provided—a beautiful hillside covered by woodland.Among the trees stood an abandoned house.I felt that I could create an excellent Nō space by arranging three floors on that spot.The floors would be open to the woods.There seemed to me no need for walls,for a complete building.

The work was more like garden design than architecture.First, I situated the stage and the bridge ( hashigakari ) in the landscape.Those two elements together constitute the performance space of Nō.I arranged the floor for spectators in an area facing the stage.The kenio is covered with tatami mats,which need to be protected from rain,so I provided the area with a roof, that I made as low as possible.A steeply pitched roof like the one over the stage would have been too assertive, turning the kenio into an object, whereas it is strictly a place for the spectator — that is,the subject.As a result,the kenjo is practically modernist in design,resembling a Miesian building composed simply of a floor a roof and the minimum structural support.It is open on all sides, though it can be closed off with movable glass panels when necessary.

Between the wooden floor where spirits dance and the tatami-covered floor where spectators sit is the shirasu.Those three floors are open to the landscape and people can access them at any time.That is the biggest difference between this stage and the enclosed No theatre of the Kōyōza-type.In principle, a Kōyōza-type theatre is closed except during performances.People are not free to come and go-a problem that nearly all public buildings share.

I wanted to propose an alternative to such closed facilities.Toyoma Nō is a form of Nō performed and watched by townspeople;it is an extension of everyday life.Anyone can approach the Nō stage at any time. They can stroll around the stage as they might stroll through a garden;they can even go into the woods.They can close their eyes, listen to the sounds of the woods, and imagine
past or future performances on the stage.

More than just open up the space to the public,1 wanted to make the tatami-covered kenjo a community centre for the townspeople.They proposed many possible uses for the space, including a practice room for the tea ceremony and traditional Japanese dance.At my suggestion the dressing room is also used during the day as a small museum displaying Nō masks and costumes, and in the evening as a place for practising Nō songs.In this way, each room serves multiple functions.By cross-programming and by opening up the space to the natural environment, I was able to dissolve the rigid framework of architecture.

In opening up the space to the woods,my greatest concern was the design of the shirasu.Ordinarily, this is a left-over area between two structures,the stage and the kenjo.In the modern era,the focus of design has always been objects;the design of open space has been treated as a matter of secondary importance.A garden designer is usually called upon to deal with the space that is left over when the structures (that is,objects) have been completely designed.Here, however, I felt this process ought to be reversed.This narrow, residual area is in fact key to the performance of Nō, sometimes separating and sometimes miraculously connecting this world and the otherworld.If it were correctly designed,it could assure the success of the scheme.

I felt that the shirasu had first of all to be large.I based its size on the shirasu of the south Nō stage in the Nishi-Honganji temple in Kyoto, but in contrast to that shirasu,this one is stepped so as to create another spectator area, a second kenjo, with a side-on view of the stage.This lateral view forms the main view of the stage, with the woods beyond providing a backdrop.(This sightline is indicated by arrow X in the plan on page l33.) Usually the main view of the stage is from the front, with the so-called 'mirror board' (kagamiita) seen directly behind.From this viewpoint (arrow Y in the plan),one cannot see beyond the mirror board.

The mirror board came into being as a way to enable performers to access the stage from the dressing room without being seen.It is painted with a stylised pine, the lower portion of which is never depicted,as it is meant to represent a tree standing behind the stage and partly screened from view.The introduction of the mirror board was a major event in the evolution of Nō.It helped create a backstage circulation route and,in the depiction of the pine,provided an opportunity for further artistic expression.However, something important—the open stage, a quite
unique theatrical space—was lost.

The natural environment that had originally existed beyond the stage was not a world unto itself, but simply another laver of space interposed between the spectator (i.e. the subject) and nature.Creating an entirely separate world within the confines of the stage would require an enormous space and ingenious stage devices.Stages in the West in fact underwent such a process of enlargement and elaboration.

Nō, however, took the opposite path.Its spaces were gradually stripped of material until they were reduced to simple frames that are self-effacing and so able to enclose anything.The otherworld (the immaterial world) reveals its true nature only when seen in the framework of this world (the material world).Likewise,this world begins to reveal its true nature only when seen in the framework of the otherworld.Nō in that sense is a drama about framework.It was to restore the stage's original character as a framework that I reorganised the entire spatial arrangement around a view of the stage in the X-direction, with the woods forming the background.The dark woods suggest an eternal distance that no man-made object can block.This position also provides a sideways view of both the kenjo (this world) and the stage (the otherworld);it makes manifest the great divide between them,but also their overlapping through the arrangement of the stage.The view suggests both result and structure,both representation and being.

Here,I made two decisions.0ne relates to the quality of the shirasu.This ground area is usually made of white pebbles:its whiteness indicates its special quality.In addition,it is considered to have originally symbolised water.In the Nō stage built out over the sea at the famous Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima Prefecture,water is used to separate this world from the otherworld.Perhaps 'separate' is not entirely correct in this case:the stage and the kenjo are not divided but instead both float on a surface of water that stretches as far as the eve can see.

Whether made of water or of white pebbles, the shirasu is not on the same level as this world and the otherworld (the stage), but exists in a space on an entirely different plane—that is,on a metalevel.It must therefore have the quality of infinite extension appropriate to the metalevel.It must be a space without form or distance, a space so abstract it seems almost mathematicalin character.Establishing a spatial metalevel makes possible the creation of a dramatic metalevel.

On this site in the woods,however,I felt that white pebbles would be inappropriate.The trees and the damp earth beneath them were both dark.Set against that dark background,the white pebbles would be too conspicuous and assertive.I decided to use crushed black stone instead, so the shirasu blends in with the forest floor, which in turn becomes an extension of the shirasu and thus comes to represent the metalevel.Just as the water in 'Water/Glass' preserves its abstract quality by continuing to flow out and spill over into the sea, the shirasu maintains its abstract state by continuing to flow out and spill over, from the stage towards the woods.

The other decision I made concerned the detailing of the stage.My first idea was to use a traditional design expressing the ideals of Nō.In a traditional No theatre, the main stage is six metres square;to this are added a bridge that meets the stage at an angle and a side stage (jiutaiza) 1.5 metres deep.The main stage is raised 90 centimetres above the shirasu, with a wainscot covering its lower portion. I was troubled by the idea of the wainscot, which would have created the impression that the stage was a large mass,an object, on the shirasu,whereas my objective was to reduce the materiality of the stage until it approached the condition of an immaterial frame—ideally, a single thin floor floating over the shirasu.The only precedent I could find for such a stage was the stage at Itsukushima Shrine.It had no wainscot,probably because the wood panels would have rotted in the water.

I came to the conclusion that this Nō stage, too, ought to be designed as if it were built on water.Such an interpretation seemed in accord with my decision to use crushed black stone instead of white pebbles on the shirasu,because deep water appears dark.I gradually began to picture a pale stage floating on dark water on the forest floor.Eliminating the wainscot reduced both material and construction costs.Design ideals were in happy agreement with budgetary objectives.

Once I had eliminated the wainscot, I began to be troubled by the thickness of the roof over the stage.The traditional roof has multiple layers of shingles applied at its bottom edge to make it appear thicker and enormous end –tiles (so-called 'ogre tiles' ),more than three metres high, ornamenting the ridge.It is too heavy and substantial to be called an immaterial frame.

I wanted to strip the roof of as much matter as possible.In a traditional NO stage, the roof is either gabled or hipped.A triangular gable would have presented itself to the kenjo, turning the roof into an enormous object.By contrast, a hipped roof would present only its lower edge to spectators;by reducing the thickness of that edge,I thought I could reduce the apparent volume of the roof as a whole.The lower edge of the roof was made quite thin, as in sukiya-style architecture.For the ends of the ridge, I used kawazu tiles,which are only about 15 centimetres high,instead of the larger ogre tiles.The ridge tiles,too, were thin and low in profile.

Despite these efforts,the use of tiles presented problems.Being thick and heavy they inevitably increased the presence and materiality of the roof.It would never be thin, no matter how we detailed it.We were studying alternative roofing materials when we came across a natural slate quarried in a mountain near Toyoma.This local slate was used to roof two well-known Tokyo landmarks:the old Ministry of Justice Building (Ende and Böckmann, 1895) and Tokyo Station (Kingo Tatsuno,1914).

What made the slate attractive was its thinness, a result of the great pressure it had been subjected to deep underground.Each material has its own distinctive system of dimensions.Knowing the material,one can with fair accuracy predict the dimensions of a unit of that material and the width and depth of a joint between two such units.The strength of the material and the method of construction define that system of dimensions.Conversely, given the dimensions,one can determine both the material and the method of construction.One can tell through dimensions everything about the way the material was collected and transported.Dimensions must therefore be determined with great care.

I decided to roof the building with this local slate.I liked the fact that it could be as thin as 6 millimetres, in defiance of the normal system of dimensions for stone.Materials are all basically the product of action and movement.In most cases, however, materials do not have the capacity to acknowledge that fact, nor do we have the capacity to understand it.Materials have incredibly rich histories,but we don't know how to read them, so materials and buildings remain silent.

I hoped that the 6-millimetre dimension would provide an opportunity to break that silence.We conducted repeated experiments on the stone's strength and were able to reduce the thickness even further, to 4-5 millimetres, which proved to be its limit.I felt that the slate would be most articulate in the vicinity of that limit.

The thickness and the distinctive surface texture reveal a great deal about the slate:the rippled folds on its surface tell us it was not cut by machine, but split with a wedge.In his perceptive study of folds.4 Deleuze reexamines Leibniz's sense of materiality.Leibniz believed that matter is not composed of autonomous particles (i.e. objects) with absolute hardness;nor is it a fluid of absolute liquidity (i.e. ground against which objects stand out as figure).Matter is instead aggregation and the product of pressure applied to aggregation.Time is built and folded into matter, and so cannot be separated from it.When the natural slate of Toyoma is split, that essential nature of matter is instantaneously revealed.Splitting the slate into thin sheets reduces its volume and leaves only time exposed on its surface.

Nō is similar in its effect.Matter and volume are reduced until they are virtually eliminated,making it possible to come and go freely between the immaterial and the material worlds, between life and death.Matter is converted into time.At Toyoma I attempted to take the reduction of matter in Nō even further.The stage, stripped of its wainscot,becomes a single thin plane floating in the woods.Split into the thinnest possible sheets,the slate drifts between matter and time.Matter melts away into the woods.

The dissolution of the distinction between matter and time and the conversion of matter into time are not themes unique to the dramatic spaces of No.We are today engaged in an effort to regain time.Up to now, time has been suppressed by an excess of matter.By stripping away matter, we can restore time.Enabling matter to articulate time, we can excite the flow of time.To do so, we must criticise matter but at the same time believe in the potential that is surely sealed into it.The result will be the emergence of something that is not so much architecture as landscape.


1. Date Masamune (1567-1636),warrior of the Azuchi-Momoyama and early Edo periods. He was made dalmyo of the domain of Sendai after siding with Tokugawa leyasu at the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600
2. Tohoko, the northeastern region of the main Japanese island, is comprised of Aomori, Iwate,Miyagi, Akita,Yamagata and Fukushima Prefectures.
3. Zeami (1363-1443),actor, playwright and critic. In his treatises,Zeami formulated such aesthetic principles as yūgen (subtle beauty). Zeami's father Kan'ami (1333—1384), also an actor and a playwright, took an older genre of performing art known as sarugaku and, under the patronage of the third Ashlkaga shogun.Yoshimitsu (1358—1408),elevated it into a dramatic art form of great refinement.His troupe,the Kanze school,is still one of the foremost schools of Nō.
4. Gllles Deteuze,Le Pli:Leibniz et Le Baroque (Paris:Editions de Minuit, 1991);trans. by Tom Conley as The Fold Leibniz and the Baroque(Minneapolis:University of Minnesota Press,1992).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Concretizing Heidegger's Notion of Dwelling

[Originally published as in Building and Dwelling [Bauen und Wohnen], edited by Eduard Führ. Munich, Germany: Waxmann Verlag GmbH; New York: Waxmann, 2000, pp. 189-202; to see other articles in this collection, which originally appeared on the Web, go to:

In “Building Dwelling Thinking,” phenomenological philosopher Martin Heidegger discusses the notion of dwelling and contends that “only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build” (Heidegger, 1971, p. 160). A major problem with dwelling as an idea is its lack of specificity, particularly in terms of design significance. This article argues that the work of two architects--Thomas Thiis-Evensen and Christopher Alexander—indicates important but different ways in which Heidegger’s dwelling can be translated into more grounded architectural meaning. Thiis-Evensen and Alexander's ideas, placed in a Heideggerian framework, point toward a way of thinking that might lead to the kind of dwelling‑building relationship suggested by Heidegger when he writes that "to build is already to dwell" (ibid., p. 146).

In “Building Dwelling Thinking,” Heidegger's major means of investigation is etymological: what is the word history of "to build" (“bauen”) and its links to dwelling? Bauen, says Heidegger, relates to nearness and neighborliness and also implies "to cherish and protect, to preserve and care for" (ibid., p. 147). Bauen also relates to the old High German word for building, “baun,” which means “to dwell” in the sense of remaining or staying in place.

In emphasizing this link to place, Heidegger suggests that building relates to dwelling, which therefore can be said to involve a sense of continuity, community, and at-homeness (Harries, 1983). The crux of dwelling, Heidegger argues, is sparing and preserving--the kindly concern for land, things, creatures, and people as they are and as they can become (ibid., p. 149; Zimmerman, 1983). As human beings, we cannot fail to dwell, for dwelling, ultimately, is the essential existential core of human being-in-the-world from which there is no escape.

At the same time, dwelling is just as much a means as an end. There will always be a certain tension, a kind of imperfection, between what we wish, do, and make. The significant questions are how do we dwell in our own particular situations and how can we shape the quality of our dwelling for better or worse? Heidegger links the quality of our dwelling to the quality of our building, since an effective building arises from a genuine sense of sparing and preserving (see Foltz, 1995, pp. 159-63).

Heidegger also argues that, in practical terms, dwelling involves the gathering of the fourfold--the coming together of earth, sky, people, and a sense of spiritual reverence, or "the gods," as he signifies higher realities (ibid.). In this sense, dwelling is no mere extension of existential space or place; rather, "it becomes itself the fundamental human activity, in the light of which both place and space find their first clarification" (Jager, 1983, p. 154). As Heidegger interprets dwelling, the built environment is crucial because it supports and reflects a person and group's way of being-in-the-world. The built environment is a certain embodied grasp of the world, a particular way of taking up the body and the world, a specific orientation disclosing certain aspects of a worldly horizon (ibid., pp. 154‑155). The world in which we find ourselves completes us in what we are, and therefore the specific nature of the built environment becomes crucial.

In other words, people are immersed in their world, and this immersion is qualitative, subtle—in many ways, ineffable. Thus a walk through a well‑tended garden evokes a different state of being than a similar walk through an uncared‑for garden or an unsightly vacant lot. Similarly, entering a church evokes a different human stance than entering a nightclub or a shopping mall or an empty street or a street filled with human activity. One aim for aim for architects is to become sensitive to these experiences and to become more aware of how specific qualities of the built environment enhance or stymie particular human experiences.

Heidegger argues that, in our modern age, human dwelling is reduced and so, therefore, is building. His explication of why we dwell less fully today is complicated; he suggests that, in part, it is because we manipulate and demand from our world rather than meet it an attitude of sparing and preserving‑‑i.e., allowing it to be and become. In this sense, a key to dwelling is letting ourselves and the world be, and this letting‑be includes the ways we build, see, understand, and think.

It is this need for letting‑be in designing and understanding that marks the value of Thiis-Evensen and Alexander's work for a deeper, more grounded, understanding of dwelling. Both architects seek concrete means for identifying and describing built qualities that sustain and strengthen the quality of dwelling. Through evoking one style of sparing and preserving, Thiis-Evensen and Alexander provide ways to see and think more clearly, which, in turn, might lead to better designing and building.

Norwegian architect Thomas Thiis-Evensen's Archetypes in Architecture goes far in developing a language of architectural elements as they have relation to dwelling (Thiis-Evensen 1987).1 Thiis-Evensen's aim is to understand "the universality of architectural expression" (ibid., 8). His vehicle is what he calls architectural archetypes—“the most basic elements of architecture," which for Thiis-Evensen can be identified as the floor, wall, and roof (ibid.). Thiis-Evensen argues that these three architectural elements are not arbitrary but, rather, are common to all historical and cultural traditions. The essential existential ground of floor, wall, and roof, he argues, is the relationship between inside and outside. Just by being what they are, the floor, wall, and roof automatically create an inside in the midst of an outside, though in different ways: the floor, through above and beneath; the wall, through within and around; and the roof, through over and below.

Using examples from architectural history as evidence, Thiis-Evensen argues that any building can be interpreted experientially in terms of these three archetypes. His main purpose is to describe the kinds of environmental and architectural experience that different variations of floor, wall, and roof sustain and presuppose. The result, he claims, is "a common language of [architectural] form which we can immediately understand, regardless of individual or culture" (ibid., 17).

Thiis-Evensen demonstrates that a building’s relative degree of insideness or outsideness in regard to floor, wall, and roof can be clarified through motion, weight, and substance—the three “existential expressions of architecture” (ibid., p. 21). By motion, he means the architectural element's sense of dynamism or inertia--that is, whether the element seems to expand, to contract, or to rest in balance. Weight involves the sense of heaviness or lightness of the element and how it relates to gravity. Last, substance relates to the material sense of the element--whether it is soft or hard, coarse or fine, warm or cold, and so forth.

In broadest terms, the central question Thiis-Evensen asks in Archetypes is, “How do floor, wall, and roof express insideness and outsideness through motion, weight, and substance?” The relationship between insideness and outsideness has, in fact, received considerable attention in phenomenological research on environmental and architectural experience (e.g., Chaffin 1989, Dovey 1985, Mugerauer 1991, Mugerauer, 1994, Seamon 1991, Silverstein 1991), especially in geographer Edward Relph's phenomenology of place (Relph 1976), which demonstrates that insideness is the hallmark quality transforming space into place and sustaining the deepest sense of dwelling. One of Thiis-Evensen's contributions is to illustrate ways in which architecture contributes to insideness and outsideness and therefore grounds a sense of dwelling.

Thiis-Evensen emphasizes that different architectural styles and cultural traditions may interpret the inside-outside dialectic through different degrees of openness and closure (for example, the medieval fortress's impenetrable walls versus the Renaissance palace's walls of many windows). Regardless of the particular stylistic or cultural expression, however, floors, walls, and roofs provide related results in that they shape an insideness in the midst of outsideness so that the individual and group can dwell. In addition, varying physical qualities of floors, walls, and roofs lead to different experiences of motion, weight, and substance. The result is an intricate set of tensions between architectural elements and architectural experience:

What is it that the roof, the floor and the wall do? As a motion, the roof rises or falls. The walls stand up or sink, the floor spreads out, climbs or descends. In this way, weight is also implied. That which rises is light, that which falls is heavy. And if the roof is bright and soft as a sail, it is open. If it is dark and of stone, it is closed. If the openings in a wall are tall and narrow, they ascend, if they are short and wide, they sink. A soft and fine floor is warm and open, but if it is hard and coarse, it closes and is heavy ( ibid., 23).

In the three main sections of Archetypes, Thiis-Evensen examines the ways through motion, weight, and substance that floors, walls, and roofs express insideness and outsideness. This work marks the start toward a descriptive language delineating the invariant elements of the built environment that have significance for human experience and dwelling.

One example is Thiis-Evensen's explication of the wall, which, of the three archetypes, he shows to reconcile most potently the relationship between inside and outside, since it is by way of the wall that one "passes through" between exterior and interior, either physically or visually through doors and windows. The wall resolves the existential tension between inside and outside in two ways: either the wall draws exterior space inside, or the wall draws interior space outside. In turn, this degree of penetration from inside to outside or vice versa can vary: on one hand, there can be complete openness and invitation; on the other hand, there can be complete closure and rejection.

One way in which the wall expresses this dialectic between openness and closure is through its windows, which are said by Thiis-Evensen to contribute to a building's sense of inside and outside in that they announce the mode of life within the building. Windows are "always an expression of the interior to the world at large" (ibid., 251):

While the door is determined by its relation to what is outside, the window is the symbol of what is inside. Just like the eye, it expresses the interior's outlook over exterior space.... (ibid.).

Thiis-Evensen points out that a window is much more than a wall opening: a window that is only a gaping hole makes the wall "a lifeless skin around a dead and empty interior" (ibid., 259). In clarifying how windows actually give life to a building, he examines the parts of a window‑-the opening, the face in the opening, and the frame around the opening. He then considers how each of these components contributes to a sense of insideness and outsideness.

For example, the frame of a window is important because it makes a setting for the inside space and brings it toward the viewer on the outside. If the window has no frame, the outside forces its way in. The frame is important, therefore, because it leads the inside out. This "leading out" occurs in varying ways, depending on what parts of the frame‑-sill, lintel, and jambs‑-are emphasized or deemphasized (figure 1). If all its parts are emphasized (a in figure 1), then the entire interior space seems to reach outward. On the other hand, if only the lintel is highlighted, then an upward movement and roofs take precedence (b); or, if only the sill is highlighted, a sinking movement and floors take precedence (c). In addition, the sense of movement for a wall as a whole can be affected by the arrangement of window frames (figures 2 & 3).

Figures 1, 2 & 3

Another important quality that relates to the window's sense of insideness and outsideness is the shape of its opening for which Thiis-Evensen identifies three variations‑-vertical (a in figure 4), horizontal (b), and central (c). These different forms lead to different inside-outside relationships, thus both vertical (a in figure 5) and central (b) windows suggest a movement coming from inside out, while a horizontal window (c) suggests an inside lateral movement that is separate from the person outside.

Figures 4 & 5

In his explication of the floor, wall, and roof, Thiis-Evensen assumes that there are various shared existential qualities‑-insideness-outsideness, gravity-levity, coldness-warmth, and so forth‑-that mark the foundation of architecture. Thus, a wall with windows whose lintels are emphasized suggests a sense of upward movement and levity, just as a wall with windows whose sills are emphasized will feel heavier and in relationship to the ground. Or, if one studies the experienced qualities of stairs, one realizes that narrow stairs typically relate to privacy and a faster ascent, whereas wide stairs often relate to publicness, ceremony, and a slower pace. Similarly, steep stairs express struggle and strength, isolation and survival--experienced qualities that frequently lead to steep stairs' use as a sacred symbol, as in Mayan temples or Rome's Scala Santa. On the other hand, shallow stairs encourage a calm, comfortable pace and typically involve secular use, as, for example, Michelangelo's steps leading up to the Campidoglio of Rome's Capitoline Hill (ibid., 89-103).

Thiis-Evensen argues that his work has direct design implications. He claims, that, too often, an architect's aesthetic sense is subjective because he or she has not thoughtfully considered how architectural forms arise from and translate themselves back into shared existential qualities like motion, weight, substance, insideness, outsideness, permeability, closure, and so forth. Thiis-Evensen believes that understanding the archetypes “and their expressive potentialities is essential when [a design] vision is to be turned into a realization" (ibid., 387). The result might be a building whose formal qualities resonate with its practical needs. The possibility becomes greater that human beings and their built world are reconciled and the quality of dwelling strengthened.

This reconciliation between people and their built world is also a major aim in the research and design of American architect Christopher Alexander, though he works at a different experiential scale than Thiis-Evensen, who largely emphasizes lived qualities of individual buildings. Alexander is more concerned with architecture in its larger environmental context. In other words, how can activities, buildings, spaces, and landscapes be designed in an integrated, coherent way to create places that are coherent, beautiful, and alive for their residents and users? In short, the aim is place making that sustains dwelling.

Like Thiis-Evensen, Alexander believes that architecture today often fails both practically and aesthetically. He also believes that many built environments of the past--for example, a city like Venice or Oxford, or a building like Chartres Cathedral or a Japanese farmhouse--generally had a sense of togetherness and harmony (Alexander, 1979). An important focus of Alexander's work is how architectural parts belong together in a larger environmental whole (Alexander, 1993). Alexander argues that, if an environmental whole is made rightly, it has a powerful sense of place, which may help people who live in and use that place to have more satisfactory, vibrant lives.

In his work, Alexander seeks a way to return a sense of wholeness to the buildings and environments of modern Western society. He emphasizes that the crucial process is healing. Every new construction, whether building or square or street furniture or window detail, must be made in such a way as to heal the environment, where “heal” especially means “make whole.” The obligation is that the thing built must work “to create a continuous structure of wholes around itself” (Alexander 1987, p. 22).

The practical tool that Alexander develops to foster environmental wholes and healing is "pattern language"--a conceptual method whereby the layperson or designer can identify and visualize the underlying elements and relationships in a built environment that foster a sense of place (Alexander et al. 1977). In his master volume, Pattern Language (ibid.), Alexander and colleagues identify 253 of these elements, or patterns, as the are called. A pattern is both interpretive and prescriptive: first, it is a description of a particular element of the built environment that contributes to a sense of place (for example, "identifiable neighborhood" [no. 14], "degrees of publicness " [36], "main gateways" [53], "high places" [62], and "window place" [180]); second, it is a practical instruction that suggests how to design the particular element effectively (for example, in regard to "main gateways," "Mark every boundary in the city which has important human meaning‑-the boundary of a building cluster, a neighborhood, a precinct‑-by great gateways where the major entering paths cross the boundary" [Alexander et al. 1977, p. 278]).

Alexander emphasizes, however, that successful places are always composed of many interrelated patterns that work synergistically to create a whole greater than the individual parts. To incorporate this wholeness in pattern language, Alexander organizes the 253 patterns from larger to smaller in three groups:

1. Patterns that describe larger-scale environments that cannot be designed or built all at once (e.g., "community of 7,000," [12], "shopping street" [32], "housing cluster" [37]);
2. Patterns that describe buildings and groups of buildings (e.g., "main building" [99], "family of entrances" [102], "positive outdoor space" [106]);
3. Patterns that describe individual building details (e.g., "structure follows social spaces” [205], “columns at the corners” [212], “front door bench” [242]).

Alexander argues that, for any new design problem, it is important to write a pattern language that begins with larger patterns and then incorporates smaller patterns. In this way, the larger qualities of environmental wholeness are held in sight as smaller qualities are fitted around them. He also emphasizes that the 253 patterns in Pattern Language are illustrative and far from complete. New design problems and environments may require revised patterns or even entirely new patterns that the architect will need to create from scratch (e.g., Coates and Seamon, 1993). In the end, pattern language is not a finished product but an on-going process of dialogue among architect, client, user, builder, and site. Pattern language is not a master list of unchangeable design principles that must be incorporated in all buildings and places. Instead, it is a way of looking at and thinking about buildings and environments so that one can better understand how their parts might work together to create a whole. As Alexander (1987, p. 16) explains,

Design must be premised on a process that has the creation of wholeness as its overriding purpose, and in which every increment of construction, no matter how small, is devoted to this purpose.

Like Heidegger, both Thiis-Evensen and Alexander believe that the built world can help illuminate and sustain essential qualities of human understanding, life, and experience, though the two architects’ thinking is somewhat different as to what these essential qualities are. Alexander would no doubt appreciate Thiis-Evensen's effort to understand architectural elements existentially, but he might ask that Thiis-Evensen give more attention to how individual archetypes join together into a larger sense of human meaning, environment, and place. For example, Alexander would probably accept Thiis-Evensen's interpretation of the way that architectural qualities support a sense of insideness and outsideness, but he would also emphasize that these architectural qualities are of little use if they do not contribute to the building's wider sense of place.

To understand more clearly this difference between Alexander and Thiis-Evensen, we can consider one example‑-windows, to which both writers devote considerable attention but in different ways. In Pattern Language, Alexander includes several patterns dealing with windows and, in each, they work in such as way as to involve people more directly with their place. For example, the pattern "windows overlooking life" (no. 192) insists that the building, through its windows, have direct visual or physical relationship with the surroundings so that there will be a connection between inside and outside. Similarly, the pattern "window place" (no. 180) says that:

Everyone loves window seats, bay windows, and big windows with low sills and comfortable chairs drawn up to them....Therefore, in every room where you spend any length of time during the day, make at least one window into a "window place" (Alexander 1977, p. 834, p. 837).

This pattern particularly well illustrates Alexander's emphasis on how buildings work as networks of behaviors and experiences. When people enter a room with a window, Alexander argues, they typically experience two forces: first, they are drawn toward the light; second, they want to rest and be comfortable. A window seat automatically resolves these two forces, and a space is transformed into a place where one can both sit comfortably and enjoy the light.

In pattern language, Alexander uses the term density to describe the multivalent meaning of the built environment. He explains that "many patterns overlap in the same physical space: the building is very dense; it has many meanings captured in a small space; and through this density it becomes profound" (ibid., p. xli). A simple example of density is the "window place" pattern, which, in terms of Thiis-Evensen’s motion, weight, and substance, could be said to gather and reconcile darkness-light and movement-rest. By incorporating a "lighted place to be comfortable," a room becomes more meaningful and dense than if it included either a "lighted place" or "place to rest" alone.

Unlike Alexander, Thiis-Evensen does not consider how windows work as a significant locus of activity. Instead, he speaks of the window largely in terms of its formal existential expression. In other words, how, by its specific size, shape, and physical arrangement, does a window allow the interior and exterior of a building to speak or not to speak to the world beyond?

Thiis-Evensen’s emphasis on how formal architectural qualities are experienced does not mean that Alexander is more complete in his existential understanding of architecture than Thiis-Evensen. Rather, these differences in approach and scale point toward the considerable variety of ways in which the built environment can contribute order and pattern to human life. One can imagine a continuum of architectural and environmental meaning that runs, on one end, from the pure architectural element to, on the other end, complex aggregations of buildings, spaces and environments that evoke a powerful sense of place. A thorough architectural and environmental phenomenology would delineates this full range of architectural and environmental experience and considers how qualities of the natural, built, and human worlds contribute to a sense of place and environmental wholeness.

In this sense, both Thiis-Evensen and Alexander’s theories of architecture and place are a major contribution to clarifying Heidegger’s cryptic statement cited at the start of this article—“Only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build.” The work of both architects helps us better to dwell because they help us better to see one part of our world—the way that architecture can contribute to human being-in-the-world. In different ways, both architects seek a virtuous circle in which people and world, thinking and designing, designing and building are all mutually supportive. In this sense, Heidegger would no doubt cheer these works, seeing them as a pragmatic complement to the larger philosophical questions that he reopens in his own writings.

1. Thiis-Evensen's book is a rewritten version of his 1982 doctoral dissertation done under the direction of Norwegian architect and architectural theorist Christian Norberg-Schulz, one of the major figures in developing a phenomenology of architecture and environment. Though not discussed here, Norberg-Schulz's work also draws centrally on Heidegger’s thinking and is another major contribution to grounding Heidegger’s notion of dwelling practically. See Norberg-Schulz, 1971, 1980, 1985, 1988.

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Monday, March 2, 2009

MSN & Skype

hi, guys: You can add my MSN and skype to your list, so we can have more different ways to interact with each other, maybe for a video conference or online real time discussion : )

Please also let me know yours!


Skype: bearrun78


Skype: jonathan.byers

Al Jaber Tower in Dubai

We designed this tower with the faceted curtain wall, tilted towards four different angles, to get a fragmented image of the city view, the facets become unified while they go towards the top of the tower. We use this idea to present this building since it is the gate way tower of entering the Dubai Media city, we think the basic element of the media today are the pixels, in most of the way of visual expression.

Now that I think about it, could be a good way to explain the diffuse effect that Kerry brought up.


Comment on the comments for Kerry

lots of great comments and thoughts, I think it is time to put these ideas into some really interesting models, to test out the material, the layers, the frame, the diffusion effect....I can already see many opportunities in my head now, except I can't do it for you guys, but looking forward to see what each of you come up with!